Friday, 11 November 2022

The Ice Borg Arrives

Bjorn Borg 1976

Mention Björn Borg in the context of Wimbledon and most people will think back to 1980 and his epic battle with John McEnroe. The sheer contrast in personalities between the fiery American and the cool Swede nicknamed The Ice Borg ensured that this would be a duel that would live long in the memory. Indeed they made a film about it!

But in fact that memorable clash was the fifth and final victory for Borg at Wimbledon before his unexpected retirement from the game at the age of just 25. Long before it took place, Borg began his astonishing run of five consecutive tournament wins in 1976, with a straight-sets victory over the temperamental Romanian Ilie Năstase. In doing so he became the first man ever to win at Wimbledon without dropping a set in any round.

He was also at the time the youngest ever male winner, having just turned twenty. Despite his youth he was blessed with great muscularity, allowing him to put real power into his delivery. Even as a teenager, when he was still learning his trade, he was frequently beating older opponents.

The Men’s Singles at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in 1976 was the beginning of an exciting, if somewhat fleeting era in the history of the sport and in its way was every bit as significant as the clash with McEnroe, which was to come four years later.

Sunday, 28 August 2022

My Interview With Author Rita Lee Chapman

Rita Lee Chapman is a UK-born author now resident in Australia. She has written a number of books, including the popular Missing In… series inspired by her travels. Her titles are all available from her author page at Amazon. 

It was a joy to ponder and respond to her questions about my work, including the concept novel The Best Year Of Our Lives. The full text of my interview with Rita can be seen here.

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

He Made Me Feel Like Dancing


 Not that dancing was ever really my thing. If you've heard the expression that a person dances as though they had two left feet - well, I dance like a guy with one left foot and no other. Indeed, only in moments of extreme intoxication have I ever even attempted it.

But that's by the by. Whenever I hear an upbeat, mid-1970s dance classic, of which there were so many, I dance in my head and wish I was back there, performing the moves that I lacked either the self-confidence or the co-ordination (probably both) to step out to at the time.

Leo Sayer's You Make Me Feel Like Dancing absolutely falls into that category. It was an iconic assertion of the carefree spirit which pervaded 1976 from start to finish, taking the then all-important singles charts by storm in the autumn of that year in defiance of the first rumblings of the punk revolution.

Post glam world of disco and dance

But to those of us who were veterans of the early '70s music scene, reborn into the post-glam world of disco and dance before any of us had even heard of John Travolta, this was but the latest incarnation of a likeable and talented artist who had first come to our attention in 1973 when he was featured on Top of the Pops in full pierrot costume performing his debut hit single The Show Must Go On. This original, slightly eccentric number was soon to be joined in my record collection by One Man Band and Moonlighting. I had no idea at the time that Sayer had also co-written another contemporary favourite of mine, Giving It All Away by Roger Daltrey.

You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, though, was something of a new departure. Whilst its predecessors had each told a story of its own - "a circus theme as a metaphor for dealing with the difficulties and wrong choices of life" (thanks Wikipedia!), a struggling street musician constantly avoiding the attentions of policemen and aggressive motorists, and two young lovers eloping to Gretna – this was a disco-facing love song pure and simple.

It wasn't a Leo Sayer song that I'd expected but for me it worked, not least because it tapped into emotions that I was going through at the time.

A rueful romantic ballad

The same must be said for his early 1977 follow-up When I Need You, a rueful romantic ballad which caught me just at a time when the magic that I'd known in '76 had started to fall apart for me, and when the consequences of decisions (or more precisely indecisions) that I'd made that year were just beginning to tear away at me.

Later hits performed in the same vein included How Much Love, Thunder in My Heart, I Can't Stop Loving You, Raining in My Heart and More Than I Can Say (was that last one really as late as 1980?). There was a unique, slightly boy-like melancholy to Sayer's voice which owned every hit, whether home-grown or cover.

Coming home

One of my all-time favourite Leo Sayer songs was actually recorded in the early 1980s - a decade which, in musical terms, was almost entirely lost to me as I pursued other, mostly destructive interests. Indeed I only heard Orchard Road for the first time a few years ago and, oddly, in my mind it took me back to the 1970s - or maybe to 1991, when briefly I touched base with some of my old friends from the youth club once again in an aberrant reunion which duly engendered its own nostalgia pangs over the course of time. The wayward lad had made the call and was surprised to learn that the welcome mat had been waiting for him all along. "I am coming home…", he sang triumphantly.

Back in the day I don't recall any of my peers having been Leo Sayer fans as such - not in the sense that they were Slade fans, Mud fans, T. Rex fans or of course David Bowie fans. And yet neither do I recall any of them ever having had a bad word to say about this compelling, perennial artist, whose singles were included aplenty amongst most of their burgeoning record collections. What was not to like about Leo Sayer?

Sweet memories

It's a blessing that Sayer, now domiciled in Australia, is still performing, and interacting faithfully with his many fans - old and new - on social media.

He has a UK tour coming up this autumn for which I'm canvassing company, hoping to recapture a few sweet memories as well as to maybe discover some of his newer material.

If the bar is cheap enough, I might even dance.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

“A Mildly Terrifying Nostalgic Treat” - Taking a Humorous Look at the Cool but Deadly 1970s


Unrelenting nostalgics like myself do tend to look back to the 1970s through deeply rose-tinted spectacles.

So, in the interests of balance, let me draw your attention to this hilarious article from the British satirical website The Poke, listing what it says were 40 of the most deadly hazards that we somehow managed to survive during that decade, allowing us against all odds to live to tell the tale today.

I have to admit that, in retrospect, some of these send a shiver down my spine. But at the time it didn’t feel at all risky to suspend a bathroom ceiling heater over a tub full of water, nor to drunkenly attempt to carve the roast with an erratic electric carver which exercised a frankly astonishing display of freewill throughout the entire operation.

They could of course have mentioned the play park too.

Take a look by clicking here.


Friday, 27 May 2022

These Days are Ours - Remembering The Fonz and Happy Days

If the mid 1970s could be said to have thrown up a hero who truly reflected the mood of the age, it may well have been one Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli, better known to those of us who were there as "The Fonz".

The Fonz was not a real-life person, but a TV character in a popular American sitcom called Happy Days, played by Henry Winkler who himself was a good decade older than his part. The series was launched on ABC in the United States in January 1974, and came to our screens here in the UK in October 1976.

Arnold's Drive-In

Paradoxically, despite being a seventies' icon The Fonz, or Fonzie as he was sometimes called, did not belong to that era at all. Happy Days was set in 1950s Milwaukee, and centred upon a clean-cut young all-American man by the name of Richie Cunningham whose best (if somewhat unlikely) pal was the suave, leather-clad, high school dropout and biker Fonzarelli. When they and their mutual friends hung out at Arnold's Drive-In, as was oft their wont, there was nary a platformed shoe nor a flared loon pant ever to be seen. When Fonzie punched the jukebox (no need for a coin when you're as cool as he), it would be the sound of Elvis or some other contemporary that would issue forth. Even the addition to the cast in 1978 of glam rocker Suzi Quatro - in character as Leather Tuscadero, the leader of an all-girl band – did nothing to upset the '50s theme.

And the paradox was that this was precisely the thing which lent the sitcom its 1970s appeal. However unique and original the glam period of the early seventies may have been, one of its oddly recurring themes was a kind of faux fifties nostalgia - not so much a faithful re-enactment of that seminal period which heralded the birth of rock culture, but rather a slightly kitschy send-up of it. Think Mud, Showaddywaddy or The Rubettes and you'll get where I'm coming from. Happy Days was the 1950s as seen through the eyes of 1970s youth. We loved it precisely because it wasn't quite real.

Tough guy

As tough guys go, The Fonz wasn't The Terminator or even Dirty Harry. He was hard because he told us he was hard, and the absurdly exaggerated respect shown to him by those all around him served to emphasise the point quite hilariously. Like the coolest kids in any 1970s classroom, the awe in which he was held was enforced through personality more than by menace.

Happy Days, and The Fonz in particular, achieved cult status in its day. Wikipedia notes that it attempted "to honestly depict a wistful look back at adolescence". Whether it was the drive-in or the church youth club or the disco, the dynamics differ little between the generations.

The eleventh and final season of the show wound up in the summer of 1984, but it will long be remembered with fondness for the important contribution it made to the 1970s story.

Suzi Quatro as Leather Tuscadero

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

The Best Year Of Our Lives and 1000 Memories of 1976 Now Available in Hardcover

Following the announcement by Amazon's KDP Publishing that it is now able to publish titles in hardcover, both The Best Year Of Our Lives and 1000 Memories of 1976 are now available for purchase in this exciting new format.

I have deliberately kept the prices as low as possible (although Amazon itself seems to be arbitrarily resetting the price of the former on an almost daily basis). The prototype copies that I have ordered for myself would suggest that there are no quality issues to be concerned about.

Please click here for more information, and for details of all my titles.

Sunday, 2 January 2022

When the Music Came Alive


To those of us who were yet to reach our teens back in the very early 1970s, bands like Humble Pie meant very little. Certainly we'd seen their names in the columns of the music papers, and the scribblings of the bigger kids on the school desks gave some hint that there was a world of rock somewhere out there which seemed to run parallel to the one we knew and loved, but generally it was dismissed as the posing and posturing of a pretentious elite. If it didn't wear tinsel and appear regularly on Top of the Pops then to all intents and purposes it wasn't really there.

When guitarist Peter Frampton quit the band in 1971 to pursue a solo career, most of the kids at my primary school would have been underwhelmed even if had we had known. He may have been some kind of teen idol in the 60s, but this was the 70s after all, and still as yet our teens were but a distant dream. With T. Rex and Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep ringing in our ears, the esoteric fringes of the rock medium were of no concern to any of our gender who couldn't grow a tash.

That all changed in 1976. Not so much the tash bit, although one or two of my secondary school mates had by then embarked, albeit half-heartedly (and usually quite pathetically) upon that same endeavour. But Frampton, from somewhere out of nowhere, suddenly exploded onto the scene like nothing we had ever known. Show Me the Way was more than just an original, pulsating, energetic rock song, expertly exploiting new technologies to create a whole new sound which superbly complemented his exciting (but not at all esoteric) guitar work. It was also a liberating, almost breathless and hugely optimistic sound, laying down a vibe for 1976 so passionate and assertive that it would live with me, and many others like me, forever. Albums weren't really our thing in those days, but Frampton Comes Alive! was a must, as was rushing out and booking a ticket for the solitary London gig.

Album of the Year

The top-selling LP was voted was voted Album of the Year by readers of the influential Rolling Stone magazine in 1976, and 36 years on it was still being heralded by the same august publication as the third greatest live album of all time. The accompanying article declared: "He was loved by teenage girls, and their older brothers. He owned the year 1976 like nobody else in rock."

Frampton Comes Alive! yielded two more hits in the form of Baby I Love Your Way and Do You Feel Like We Do? Some beautiful footage on him performing to packed stadia in the US in the wake of his 1976 success is freely available on YouTube.

Later years saw Frampton perform a hefty catalogue of new work, including an interesting collaboration with his old schoolpal David Bowie in which he contributed to the latter's album Never Let Me Down and played on the accompanying Glass Spider tour. Sadly in 2019 he revealed that he had been diagnosed with Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM), a progressive muscular disorder, and that he would play five farewell concerts in the UK the following year. Heartbreakingly, they had to be cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions.